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Taking an unwell pet to the vet is always stressful for a pet parent.  The possibility of a scary diagnosis weighs heavily and there is usually the added concern about the bill for the treatment.  The availability of pet medical insurance has made it possible for pet owners to easily provide their pets with the veterinary care they require.  Unfortunately, the veterinary costs of caring for one’s pet are often not planned, nor budgeted for.  Veterinary services often end up being a grudge purchase, leading to the vet being blamed for being  ‘so expensive’.

To be honest, it’s tiresome and often hurtful for people  working in the veterinary/pet-care industry to see comments on social media about how pet-parents feel ‘ripped off’ by their vets, or requests for recommendations for “vets who don’t charge the earth”.   They’ve heard comments along the lines of “I built the new wing at my local vet clinic with that last bill for Sushi”, or  “I can’t believe how much more expensive my vet is than my GP” more times than they care to remember.  So, if vets aren’t money-grabbers at heart, what are those bills all about?

For one, your single veterinary bill is a cumulative invoice for the services of several professionals:



Your vet does not send you to the pharmacy to fill your pet’s script after a consultation.  He or she is your pharmacist and the costs of Max’s medication is included on the invoice you receive after a veterinary consultation.  This requires a veterinary clinic to hold a large pharmaceutical inventory in order to always have drugs at hand for the species they are treating.  There is no time to order in critical medicines – these must be bought and paid for in sufficient quantity ahead of time and don’t cost less to buy than human medicines.



When a new pup or kitten joins the family, your vet is the person who guides you through those first few weeks and months of furry-parenthood, who vaccinates your young pet, deworms, microchips, advises on nutrition, exercise, social enrichment, “school” (training), family planning (sterilisation) and helps you to ensure that your fur-child gets the very best start possible in terms of health and environment.  You never have to set foot into a separate baby-care clinic; these services form part of your regular veterinary consultation fee and the people trained in these fields are part of the clinic staff.



In order to get a clear picture of what ails your pet, the vet will analyse blood, urine, faecal and tissue samples. The specialist equipment needed to do this, and to provide an immediate diagnosis, requires a huge financial investment.  Alternatively, a vet may send the sample away to an external laboratory, that charges their professional fees in turn.    The costs for these tests are included in the bill for that veterinary consultation and aren’t billed for separately as they are in human medicine.



Your vet or vet nurse is also your radiographer and/or ultra-sonographer.  Any x-rays and ultrasounds necessary to diagnose a problem are provided by a veterinary healthcare professional in-house and analysed straight away. The equipment requires an investment of over a hundred thousand Rand alone.  Fees are also billed directly on your veterinary invoice, not by a third party.


Your veterinarian is trained as a dentist, and veterinary nurses, as oral hygienists. Few doctors conduct a routine dental check of their patient during their general healthcare check-ups, but your vet does.  Additionally, your vet will perform full dental services with specialised equipment that includes an inhalant anaesthetic machine in the case of companion animal vets, as their patients don’t calmly lie back with their mouths held wide open.



Vets have to have a wide ranging knowledge of all conditions affecting the eye, ear, oral cavity and throat of their patients, all of which are also checked during routine examinations.  Only out- of- the-ordinary cases are referred to specialists in the field; otherwise, all medical and surgical issues with these areas are taken care of by your vet.



Many health concerns can be effectively addressed by feeding your pet the correct diet and vets receive comprehensive training in the nutritional requirements of 8 different species of animals.  Companion animal vets also benefit from the incredible advances in clinical pet nutrition and can give dietary advice in order to ensure that your pet enjoys a healthy, vital and energetic life, regardless of any health challenges.



Having to deal with patients who cannot speak or effectively communicate their thoughts and feelings means that vets need to be experts at reading body language and pick up on the most subtle of changes in behaviour.  They can often decode your pets’ confounding behavioural patterns for you and assist you in maintaining happy relationships between all people and animals in the household.  Anxiety, particularly, is a subject they are closely familiar with, as no animal enjoys visiting the vet or having to stay in hospital.  Consequently, vets help with advice or pharmaceutical support for pets who also exhibit states of anxiety outside the clinic in other aspects of their lives.



With an awareness of the benefits of holistic treatments sweeping the globe, vets are often able to provide alternative types of healing like acupuncture, laser therapy, homeopathic and other treatment options.  Ask your vet – you may not need to seek these services from a specialist practitioner.



There are no old-age homes for elderly pets, or hospices for those who are terminally ill.  Your vet will conduct senior healthcare checks each year or six-monthly, to pick up early sign of age-related disease and can ensure that your Golden Oldie is pain-free, comfortable, and in the best health possible, up to a ripe old age.  He or she provides pain-relief, dietary management, behavioural advice and palliative care, without the need to seek these from any other sources.  Various cancers in dogs and cats can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy, with a number of them being administered by general veterinary practitioners themselves.



If the unthinkable happens and your fur-baby passes away unexpectedly, your vet can choose to conduct a postmortem and be able to present you with closure on how your pet passed.



Having been by your side through an elderly pet’s illness, or supported you when your younger fur-child met with a fatal event that shook you to the core, your vet is also the person who prepares you for what’s to come in terms of ending suffering and/or assists you in handling the remains and memorialising your furry family member in a special and meaningful way.  Commonly, the pet is well-known to the vet and they must manage their own emotions regarding the loss in order to be strong for us, their clients, and our families when we are falling apart in grief.  Your veterinary team will understand, better than most, how devastating your loss is and be available for you to lean on.


Vets are highly skilled individuals, trained in numerous species as part of their general training.  They study, on average, for 7 years, at huge personal financial cost, to be able to diagnose and treat beings who are unable to communicate any information whatsoever about “where it hurts”, nor understand how to rest in order to recuperate.  Their findings are based purely on what they can glean from the history given by the animal’s care-giver (usually a lay-person), a skilled clinical examination, wide range of scientific knowledge and a thorough process of elimination of the many possible conditions that can produce the symptoms that the animal is showing.

Because of how much our pets mean to us, there is huge pressure on vets to always get things right and to present to us the very best treatment options, based on the prognosis, how thoroughly we will be able to comply with the treatment plan,  as well as our available budget for potentially costly procedures and medication.

Over and above the everyday stresses and concerns about running their hospitals as sustainable small businesses, vets work daily under exceptionally emotionally stressful conditions:  they see their patients afraid and in pain, keenly feel the responsibility of correctly diagnosing and treating their patients to prevent unnecessary pain and suffering, often with significant constraints placed on them by their client’s financial position.  They must deal with their clients breaking down due to their pets being unwell, or with the anger directed at the staff when things don’t run smoothly or meet with clients’ preconceived expectations.

They are regularly wee’d or poo’d on, bitten, scratched or trampled.  They work long hours and most find it really difficult to “switch off” after leaving at the end of the day:  they worry about their patients, ponder over diagnoses, liaise with other vets and specialists in their personal time regarding cases and often give up family and social time to research new equipment, drugs and methods.  They are bound to a strict programme of continued professional education which generally takes place after a long day of consultations and surgery or involves attending conferences away from home and family.  This keeps them up to speed with the latest advances in veterinary science, in order to be able to deliver an excellent service to us and our beloved furry family members.

Although they are privileged to be able to enjoy those beautiful moments like bringing a litter of kittens into the world, seeing the successful outcome of a tricky surgery or snatching a trauma patient back from the brink of death, their job is also often fraught with sadness.  No other doctors must “play god” and send their patients into the hereafter.  Euthanasia never becomes routine and many vets grapple with having to be the person who regularly ends lives, whether it’s necessary, or worse, avoidable.  Veterinary patients also have relatively short lifespans, and veterinarians must deal with deaths far more frequently than their medical colleagues do.

Those working in welfare are regularly confronted with horrifying cruelty and neglect inflicted on helpless animals and must put aside their own feelings in order to remain professional and achieve the best end result for the animals involved.

There can be few things worse than walking into work in the morning, doing everything in your power to save a beloved pet, only for it to die despite all the efforts made.   And then to make that terrible call to the owner and to have to send their grieving client a bill for the veterinary products and services administered beforehand.  As well as the cremation fee.  Because these things are not free to the vet either.

Vets are worth every cent of their professional fee which is very low when compared to that of other medical professionals, despite the similarity in knowledge they hold. Only a small portion of the veterinary bill an owner receives is actually for the vet’s time and expertise.  So, the next time you hear someone complaining about veterinary expenses, gently remind them of the multitude of services their vet provides that are not outsourced and, consequently, not charged for separately.  Also remind them, that their vet is in fact an extended member of the family who cares very much about them and their furry children.  Suicide rates among veterinary professionals is exceptionally high, as a result of the emotional and financial pressures that they face as a daily part of their work.  Rather than adding to this burden, why not drop them a WhatsApp or an email, or get the kids to make a card to show how much you and your pets appreciate their care and dedication?  Vets treasure these messages.

Vets have chosen their profession because of their love for animals and their deep desire to heal them.  If they wanted a job that would make them wealthy, their intellect and abilities would have allowed them to pursue just about any other career.  They live for those moments when they turn a client’s tears over their ill pet into smiles when that pet gets to go home again.  Vets also welcome open, respectful conversations about the treatments they recommend and the associated fees, and will always discuss appropriate alternative options.

Have you hugged your vet today?


© Written By Twisted Whiskers

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